Module 5: young people, society and AOD: learner's workbook

5.1 Systems model

Page last updated: 2004

Young people do not grow and develop in isolation. Experiences, families, their peers and even the generation they grow up in impacts upon their growth and development.

A useful way of understanding how young people's experiences and environment effects them is to look at them through a systems approach.

A systems approach assumes that no aspect of behaviour occurs in isolation without the wider context in which it occurs. In other words, when we try to understand young people, we must consider the individual, their family, the wider community and society as a whole as well as how they interact with each other. Even subtle changes in one part of the system impacts on other parts and can also affect relationships between various systems.

Your adolescence

Task - writing exercise

Question - Think about your own adolescence. What kinds of systems impacted on the way that you experienced life? Think about another adolescent that you knew. What kinds of systems impacted on their life?

Systemic youth-focused framework

In applying a systems approach to working with young people we need to acknowledge the following assumptions.
  • Young people are normal and deal with challenges in ways similar to other people in society (e.g. some well and others not so well).

  • Young people develop their coping strategies and skills by learning from others around them, through their own personalities and through trial and error.

  • The term 'youth' is a social construction. Societal values, beliefs and myths about young people can often determine the way in which they are treated by adults. For example, young people are viewed differently in different cultures.

  • Young people are not a homogenous group. Although young people experience some common developmental issues, their backgrounds, experiences and cultures are as diverse as the rest of the population.

  • Young people make choices and actively participate in our society. They are not victims of a dysfunctional society, family or peer group.Top of page
Other factors that influence young people are:
  • developmental stages (differences between a 13-yearold and a 19-year-old, individual differences in reaching developmental milestones)
  • socio-economic status (where they are placed in the structure of society),
  • culture (the culture they identify with, and their cultural practices)
  • gender (biological and social experiences related to that gender)
  • sexuality (their sexual identity)
  • educational background (type of education, the school they attended and educational experiences)
  • family background (foster care, state wards, blended family, single-parent family, traditional family, extended family etc)
  • physical attributes (disability or impairment, tall, short, dark-skinned, light-haired etc)
  • peer culture (values and beliefs of friends and peers)
  • cohort (people who were born in the roughly the same era. Values, beliefs and behaviours of one cohort can be vastly different from those of another).
  • interests (hobbies, passion).